Sydney hip hop duo Jackie Onassis have had a dream start to 2013 – scoring a coveted slot on the bill of their home town’s Big Day Out festival courtesy of Triple J Unearthed, then quickly following that up with international shout-outs from UK tastemakers Zane Lowe and Rob Da Bank. Both of the latter gave the duo’s track Crystal Balling air time and props on BBC Radio 1, with Lowe following Triple J’s lead by anointing Jackie Onassis as an act to watch out for in 2013.
But what do two hip hoppers from Sydney’s Inner-West creative hub have in common with America’s tragic former first lady anyway? Though Kai (the MC) and Raph (the beat-maker and DJ) had known each other for a decade prior thanks to sharing a high school campus together (Spit Syndicate and Horrorshow were fellow alumni), it was at a university American History tutorial that they reconnected and the seeds for their musical union were sewn. They were studying JFK, so the Jackie Onassis moniker was an obvious fit.
That was 2010, and they quietly plied their musical trade between lectures until mid-2011 when they realised they were onto something with the as-yet-unreleased track Said And Done. Their local hip hop peers were instantly impressed, and they were quickly admitted into the One Day crew – a collective containing the aforementioned Spit Syndicate and Horrorshow, plus their accomplice Joyride. They’ve since hit the road in support of Spit Syndicate, and joined Melburnian Illy on his Bring It Back tour.
“I just like to think about what’s going on, and try to put my perspective on things,” says Kai of his approach as an MC, giving props to Australian hip hop pioneers, the sounds of New York and America’s south as influences on his delivery and melodic approach. Raph meanwhile cites the work of Just Blaze, Jay-Z, and Kanye West as inspiring to him as a producer. He aims to bring depth and texture to his work that means his beats always tell a story of their own – “and once you add lyrics, the journey gets even better,” he adds. He builds his lush production beds using a combination of synths and sampled drum sounds (both live and electronic), backing up Kai in a live setting with a DJ rig sent through effects and filters which he triggers dependent on the energy of the crowd.
The duo’s knack for weaving dense storytelling, Gen-Y commentary and energetic, catchy choruses, amongst textured, contemporary production is captured perfectly on the free download Holiday EP –home to Crystal Balling, the track that has public broadcasters on both sides of the equator so enamoured of the pair. Up next is the Juliet EP, which Kai says is a progression for Jackie Onassis even though the sessions for both EPs overlapped. “The tracks are more complex,” he says. “Special Occasion really twists and turns differently to the regular structure of Australian hip hop – or any hip hop.”